South Walton, affectionately known as 30A by locals, is the more upscale yet still relaxed part of the Emerald Coast. If you are a fan of the Truman Show, you might know the film was shot on location at Seaside, one of the 16 renowned beach neighbourhoods of South Walton. The perfectly manicured lawns with clean, white picket fences and perpetually stunning blue skylines are what make the location ideal for depicting the quintessential Americana dream town in the film. Here, you will not find a molecule of litter on their pavements.
Any chaos in South Walton is strictly reserved for the countless pieces of artwork you will encounter in the area. Artists thrive in this environment, none more so than the master of sculptural painting, Justin Gaffrey. The acclaimed, self-taught painter specialises in a signature heavy textured style, so there’s 3-D quality to his work. Objects like the sun and flower petals have a meringue-like appearance that helps to bring them alive. I was fortunate to have convinced the owner to sell me one of his signature sunflower paintings.
You can discover his work at the local airport and restaurants such as FOOW (fish out of water). One look at the spectacular gulf views at FOOW will help you appreciate where Justin gets his inspiration from. There are no high-rises in South Walton, just immaculately designed buildings that blend in with the surroundings. Next to the restaurant is a handy boardwalk that transports you onto the sugar-white sandy beach. The food is of an easy-going variety including the likes of shrimp po’boy, niçoise salad and the omnipresent plump gulf oysters.
Apart from appealing to art lovers, the scenic surroundings are also a haven for sports lovers catering to all levels of difficulty. You can go on an e-bike tour of the surrounding area with the likes of Pedego. They are Emerald Coast’s first all-electric bicycle shop, and you can cycle past the numerous celebrity mansions that occupy South Walton with occupants such as Cher and, unsurprisingly, Jim Carrey. This is also the best area in the world to learn paddle boarding at Grayton Beach. The area has consistently been voted as having the most picturesque and pristine beaches in the United States. Coastal dune lakes are only found in very few places around the world, and the shallow nature of the water makes it ideal for beginners to learn to paddle board. The 15 freshwater lakes in South Walton are also a vital habitat for the likes of coastal birds, which you can spot during your water adventures.
There are a thousand and one ways of admiring the Emerald Coast, but my favourite way has to be a beach bonfire with 30A Blaze along with beach side picnic. They provide everything from immaculately presented charcuterie boards to the most romantic of place settings. They can supply live music whilst you prepare your s’mores. All the hassles of providing deckchairs, and clearing out the rubbish are all taken care of. All you have to do is enjoy the memorable moment with a lullaby of Floridan waves, the finest of beach sand on your toes and a South Walton sunshine that will touch your heart.
You might be wondering where is the best place for accommodation – and what about retail therapy? Rosemary Beach should be high on your list. It has the perfect combination of new urbanism and a calming West Indies style. New Urbanism is an urban design philosophy, which focuses on an environmentally-friendly design where walkable neighbourhoods are created. The poster child of this movement is Seaside and the concept has subsequently been refined at the likes of Rosemary Beach. There are independent, boutique stores dotted along their high street selling everything from breezy Floridian clothing to ornate kitchenware.
The Pearl at Rosemary Beach is arguably the most luxury hotel in the vicinity. The iconic peaked clock tower, pointed turrets, and black and white striped awnings are an unmissable part of the town. The suites are designed in an elegant coastal style, often with splashes of marine blue to remind us the Gulf of Mexico is only steps away. If you are looking for more choices, then Sandestin, a golf and beach resort area is just the place with countless premium private rentals and luxury hotels. I would particularly recommend, Hotel Effie. It has the only rooftop pool and lounge in northwest Florida and a celebrity chef in Hugh Acheson cooking exquisite creations at Ovide. His steamed littleneck clams with shallot, dry vermouth and Aleppo chilli is arguably the finest seafood dish you will find in Florida, if not the US.
Whilst the Truman Show might be a work of fiction, the all-perfect American dream town might be closer to reality than you think. If you take a trip to South Walton, you might discover a land where the sun is always shining and the food is always plentiful.